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Palat, Lightning defeat Sabres for fourth straight win

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- The Tampa Bay Lightning were looking for a way to end their woes on the road and found the solution with their second line.

Ondrej Palat had a goal and three assists, and linemate Nikita Kucherov had two goals and an assist to lead the Lightning to a 5-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Wednesday.

Palat gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal with 58 seconds remaining in the second period. With Sabres forward Nick Deslauriers in the penalty box, Palat took a pass from Tyler Johnson and put a snap shot over goalie Jhonas Enroth's right shoulder for his ninth goal.

"Since that line's been put together, they've done some pretty magical things," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "You look at the [3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday], it was [Steven Stamkos who] kind of took over the Toronto game and the kid line took over [Wednesday's] game. And when you're getting contributions like that. ... when you start getting that chemistry going, hopefully the wins start to mount a little bit."

Johnson had three assists in the Lightning's fourth straight win. Tampa Bay (24-11-4) is 9-7-3 on the road and 2-3-2 in the past seven road games.

"We actually talked about it before the game," Johnson said. "We put some numbers on the board, our home versus away, we didn't even realize that. As a player you don't really think about that. We realize we had to be better. We've kind of been on a little stretch of playing really good. Coming into tonight's game was huge and we were able to get the win."

Palat assisted on defenseman Matthew Carle's fourth goal with 7:27 left in the first period to open the scoring, and on wing Brett Connolly's seventh goal 5:20 into the third period that made it 3-1.

"I don't know, we were trying to play like we did the last games but we played well and we just did it today and it just went in,” Palat said. “It just went in for us."

Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov extended the lead with his 16th goal 8:40 into the third period. He put a rebound off of a shot by Johnson past Enroth to give the Lightning a 4-1 lead. Kucherov's second goal, and 17th of the season, made it 5-1.

"He's an integral part of our team, an integral part of our line. He does a lot," Johnson said. "He's a skilled guy, he competes, he works hard. There's really nothing I can say that he really needs to get better at. He's just an all-around great player, great guy, great teammate. It's fun to watch him play the way he's playing right now."

Kucherov moved within three goals of Stamkos for the Lightning lead.

"You look at that line, [Johnson] and Palat have played together through the minors and through the NHL, so they've kind of been a mainstay together," Cooper said. "But for [Kucherov] to fall in, it was kind of like he was the missing piece that they needed. ... Now with those guys, he sees it, he's got a great stick, he's got a nose for the net and they're kind of that great mix of speed, skill, hockey sense, and they're playing the game the right way and they’re being rewarded for it."

Lightning rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 10 saves in his fourth start of the season; he allowed a power-play goal to Sabres forward Tyler Ennis with 7:27 left in the first period.

Vasilevskiy was recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Tuesday.

"Our goals-against have been going down, and ultimately, in the end, you've got to have that defensive side of the game rolling come March and April, especially when your goals have dried up a little bit," Cooper said. "And we got a couple tonight that helped us out but we had to wait until the third to get them and we had to stay in the game until then. It was great that Vasilevskiy was there for us, but our team defense was, in a whole, pretty good."

The Lightning held the Sabres to one shot on goal in the third period.

"I'm not making excuses," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "Sometimes you've got no energy to give. Some of the younger guys we called up, they should be having more energy. They look a little scared sometimes. When you have those two combinations going, it's not very good."

The Sabres (14-21-3) have lost six of their past seven games and have given up five goals or more in five of those games.

"You play the way we played tonight and some of the other nights lately, we don't have a chance," Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. "I mean, it's just not the right way to play hockey."

Lightning defenseman Nikita Nesterov was recalled Wednesday and made his NHL debut. He replaced Radko Gudas, who has a lower-body injury.

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